Weird History
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9 Ways Your Life Today Is Far More Luxurious Than Kings' From The Middle Ages

Updated December 22, 2020 41.7k views10 items

What was daily life like for a king or queen during the Middle Ages? Contrary to what you might imagine, it didn't involve lounging in robes of silk and satin and indulging in lots of feasting. In reality, the life of medieval royals involved a lot of incest, sickness, and cold castles.

You'll probably feel better about your own situation after learning what life for royalty in medieval times was like. Women were married off to very close relatives for diplomatic purposes; on many occasions, they were only in their early teens at the time. Sadly, the death rates for mothers and children were quite high, and the general lack of hygiene most definitely didn't help.

Filled with rampant disease and brutal violence, the day-to-day lives of bygone monarchs were anything but fairy tales. Just be thankful you don't have to survive how medieval royals lived.

  • You Don't Have To Drink Mercury To Ward Off The Plague

    Thankfully, there are now treatments for the bubonic plague, AKA the Black Death. But it was a serious threat to medieval monarchs. When a massive outbreak swept through Europe in the mid-14th century, an estimated third of the continent's total population died.

    To cure the bubonic plague, some people strapped live chickens around their swelling buboes. Potions were a popular choice, too, particularly if they were laced with mercury, arsenic, or whatever the maker claimed was unicorn horn. Some "healing" beverages included ground precious gems, like emeralds and sapphires. They didn't prevent the plague, and needless to say, drinking mercury or rocks doesn't improve one's health.

  • You Don't Have To Marry Your Cousin For Diplomatic Reasons

    Most medieval royals married for political reasons, establishing treaties between their respective home countries in the process. Intermarriages between families over successive generations meant that royal spouses were often cousins. Ironically, the Church prohibited consanguinity within the seventh degree until the 13th century, but most nobles either got a papal dispensation or just ignored the rules.

    Some of the most famous medieval kings and their spouses were cousins wed for diplomatic purposes. William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, were distant relatives - and he defied the Pope to marry her. Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon were second cousins, and the long history of incest in their family led to lots of health complications.

  • You Don't Have To Magically Heal Sick People

    The Divine Right of Kings was more than just a right - it was a touch, too. The so-called "royal touch" ascribed magical powers to a king or queen's hands, and commoners suffering from sickness would beg for the royals to touch them and cure their ills.

    In particular, people with scrofula - a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, caused by tuberculosis - would request the royals' aid. Kings sometimes had to touch hundreds of sick individuals to dispense their powers. Sufferers were also reputedly cured by touching coins that monarchs had handled.

  • You Can Read

    Some medieval monarchs could read, but even amongst the upper classes, the literacy level was nowhere near that of modern times. After all, royals' ministers and scribes could do the hard work of reading and writing for them. Kings could mark their signatures with a scratch of a pen, and many households didn't deem educating women necessary.